Let me start by telling you a story about me.
Historically, the week that falls between the Christmas holiday and New Year’s Eve is dead airspace for office buildings. It’s the time of year when everyone is rushing to use their PTO before they lose it, and, whether they are traveling somewhere exotic or just sticking around town, generally, the last place most people turn up is the office.
That is, unless you are in my camp–-which admittedly is weird and limited in terms of members—and you love heading into the office that week.
I learned early on in my career that I loved the quiet at the office that week. External and internal communications slow down to almost nothing, and your brain can focus on projects you couldn’t seem to get accomplished the other 51 weeks of the year. Also, when I was in my early 20s and required to report to work every day from 8 to 5, there was something really satisfying about that week: Work hours were relaxed, and it seemed no one was keeping track of who was coming or going at any given moment.
In short, that week was all about me, a little week of Sam carved out among the rigor of the rest of the year.
Interestingly, that special weird limbo week is how many offices have looked throughout 2021, and while that might be pleasant one week of the year, I’m not convinced it’s a good thing to experience all year long. I’ve been fascinated with how quickly many things associated with working in an office have become individually focused. It’s almost like, in March 2020, when we left offices to stay safe, we also turned into individual nodes that focused much more inward than on our community.
For example, I have had numerous conversations with people lately who have begrudgingly talked about the one day or few days a week they are required to be in their office only to get there and realize it’s a ghost town. They spend the whole day in virtual meetings with the other 80% of their colleagues who are working from home. At that point, they pontificate about the wasted time they spent on a commute to and from the office.
And we aren’t just noticing this phenomenon in casual conversations and anecdotes. We are seeing it in our research with our clients. The leaders we work with are struggling to institute collaboration days or designate one day a week for employees to do all their collaborative events.
The challenge with that framework is, well, most teams can’t work that way. Our days ebb and flow between collaboration and individual, focused work. That’s what makes that one week a year I described so special. But in reality, it’s not realistic to sustain an organization on that kind of schedule.
As we begin 2022, it’s important for all of us to reexamine the definition of the word “collaboration.” Not only is it the action of working together to create something, but it also includes making yourself a resource to your collaborators—your co-workers.
To continue to do this effectively, we might have to start thinking more about “we” again. Yes, that might include some personal sacrifices, but as the gestalt theory states: The whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.•
Julka is founder of Indianapolis-based DORIS Research, which uses design thinking to organize workspaces.